It’s Only Science Fiction IF It Isn’t True

In 1894, a young London college student submitted an essay entitled “Reality in Four Dimensions” to the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. The editor could not grasp the mathematical concept that any object in the universe existed in four dimensions (three dimensions of space and a fourth dimension of time). He did, however, offer the young student a hundred British pounds to write a series called the “Chronic Argonauts,” which started the young scientist on a long and illustrious career penning science fiction novels. However, time would eventually prove there was more science than fiction in his collective works.

Twenty-seven years later, in 1921, a different scientist, Albert Einstein is awarded the Nobel Prize for his works in space-time relativity.

In 1914, this before mentioned prophetic writer published a book called, “In the Fourth Year”, during which every nation of the world selected a representative for a world state called, “The League of Nations.”

Six years later, The League of Nations was eventually formed following World War I in 1920.

Perhaps the most astonishing, and terrifying, scientific prophecy made by this futurist was his theories on the usefulness of the natural decay of radium, a relatively new scientific discovery in 1914 when he published the novel “The World Set Free.” In the novel, mankind discovers how to harness unlimited “atomic” energy, and in January of 1940, the world is plunged into a world war which is fueled by use of “atomic bombs.”

In 1932 Leo Szilard read “The World Set Free,” and he admitted the book set his life’s work in motion. In August of 1939, Szilard and Einstein co-wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, warning that the creation of atomic weapons was indeed possible and probably in development by Germany. Roosevelt appointed Szilard to head The Manhattan Project. In September of 1939, World War II started and was ended by America’s first deployment of atomic weapons in 1945.

How did this author so accurately depict future events and scientific discoveries?

As a young student, he was identified as a gifted scientist and offered a teaching position, but he took ill and lost his standing. In 1895, he realized he would never be able to effect change in the world as a scientist, so he turned to the only medium available to him. From his series “Chronic Argonauts,” he published his first novel “Time Machine.” From that moment, author and scientist, H. G. Wells, changed the world. In “Time Machine,” he postulated the concept of a predestination paradox, which is the concept that a person could travel back in time and cause present events. H. G. Wells was often called a futurist, but given the precision and eventual effect of his work on future scientific and social events, is it possible he, himself, was a predestination paradox?

Fond SciFi Memories: Are They Real?

David Belt Copyright 2013

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I recall as young boy thumbing through the school library (SciFi section, of course), when I came across a book called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick. I simply had to read this book, because I thought it was the most brilliant title, ever. It turned out to be one of the most brilliant books, ever, with a following in the hundreds of millions.

Never heard of it?

I’m not surprised.

Perhaps your memories have been altered…

It is said that we humans are the sum of our experiences. So what if our experiences are fabricated? Do we become fabricated beings, androids? What if an android is given all of our memories, programmed to be us? Do they become us? If the line between human and android can become grayed through the fabrication of memories, then what does it mean to be human? This is the world of Phillip K. Dick.

Still don’t recall this novel of awesome ideas? Perhaps this will shock the nodes of those droids whose experiences were programmed at the cinema: In the early 1980’s, there was Harrison Ford flick about a bounty hunter who hunted down renegade androids, passing themselves off as humans. The theatrical adaptation of this book was called “Blade Runner.”

In the story, Rick Deckard (the bounty hunter) encounters a young woman so completely programmed that she doesn’t know she is an android, which leaves an eerie question that is presented in the book, but not so directly in the movie. Rick is the best bounty hunter there is. He never fails to spot an android. He always gets his man, err droid. Rick Deckard remembers taking the human/android psyche exam and passing as human, but can he trust those memories? Or is he actually an android programmed to be the perfect bounty hunter?

This play on the fallacy of human dependence on memory for self-identification continues in many of Phillip K. Dick’s other works, most notably We Can Remember It for You, Wholesale, which movie goers will totally recall as “Total Recall” and Minority Report (you’ll have to look up the movie title on your own). All three stories take place in the same universe created by Dick and were meant to be sequels of one another. Sadly, Phillip K. Dick died before the Blade Runner project was completed and the would-be sequels were not done for more than a decade later by other film makers.

René Descartes first penned the phrase “I think, therefore I am.” As our thoughts and memories change, we change. Will this translate to Artificial Intelligence? And what if that AI thinks it is human; does it become human? At what point can we no longer trust our memories to tell us who we are?

In fond memory of a brilliant author… I think.

Cherryh’s Merovingen Nights (TM) Shared World Anthologies

Hey! Here’s a reading recommendation for you from the DAW-way-back-machine.

Merovingen Nights shared world anthology series, edited by C.J. Cherryh.

What’s a shared world anthology?

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Well, another well-known example has been Thieves’ World from Robert Asprin and Lynn Abbey.

Someone writes a cool book about an immersive and cool world and then a bunch of other cool authors jump in and write short stories taking place in that world. Neat, huh?

C.J. Cherryh wrote Angel With The Sword in 1985. Then her buds jumped up and down and said, “ZOMG! dude that’s so cool! Can I write a story taking place in Merovingen?” And Cherryh says “sure, that’s a totes fab idea, yo, but I get to edit for consistency, LOL.” (paraphrased, of course)

Merovingen is a city of small islands, canals, dead bodies, waterways. The primary mode of transportation is by small canal boat: shipping, mass transit, murder, politics and derring-do all take place via water craft. The lower city at water level is hard living, wealth and ease rise with the elevation, and much of the story centers around the interaction between the two socio-economic statuses.

Our main character is Altair Jones, seventeen and street-savvy. She makes her living polling a canal boat for hire. In Angel With The Sword, she finds Thomas Mondragon washed up and nearly dead from a dose of too much intrigue.

When we get to the short stories, it’s the editing for consistency that makes this series what it is. The story authors haven’t just dipped their toes in Cherryh’s universe. They’ve bought in, lock, stock and barrel. Cherryh writes a single short story that she breaks up into parts, focusing on the two main characters from Angel With The Sword. The parts are interspersed with tangential short stories by the guest authors, such that the characters in the short stories will be reacting to the actions taken by the main characters’ encompassing story arc. Very tidy.

Additionally, there’s some swank bonus material. What’s a fantasy book without maps, right? Well, we have not just one dinky hard to read map, but nine, yes nine maps, o soon-to-be fans! We’ve got the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, the different districts and quarters of the city, Major Eastern Oceanic Currents and –serious– maps of the ocean floor.

Now on to the appendices. In each of the different volumes Mercedes Lackey wrote up supplemental background material on the Merovingen universe. She gives us in depth info on diseases, ecology, folklore and poisons.

And, any fantasy world is totally lo-rent without fan music, yes? Well, guess what?

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(If you want a definition of “Filk”, that’s it, right there.)

All of these books are totally out of print, and mucking about with e-rights for multiple authors, some deceased, would be the headache you’d expect so don’t look for these on your e-whatnot anytime soon. But do look for them in your local used bookstore. If you’re really, really nice, I *might* lend you my copies.

Joe R. Lansdale keeps me up at night

It’s 4:12 a.m. and I’m on page 133 of Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale.

This is not uncommon, actually, this business of Joe Lansdale keeping me up at night.

I like his nuggets of digestible, chewable wisdom, like Flinstones’ vitamins, such as the opener for this novel: “When you grow up in a place, especially if your childhood is a good one, you fail to notice a lot of nasty things that creep beneath the surface and wriggle about like hungry worms in rotten flesh. But they’re there.”

Next, I plan to beat y’all over the head with Nalo Hopkinson. That’s a sledgehammer you may be more susceptible to, as–while Lansdale is strictly not SF/F*–Hopkinson is lovingly, delicately, most definitely SF/F. Be prepared to withstand the Raging Hoarde of my latest author crush.

*not the books I’ve read, yet. There is a timey-wimey Steampunky Weird West thing that I haven’t dived into.

Pseudonyms Are Stupid

Did you know that your most favorite author ever has written and published secret books that they don’t want you to know about?

This last weekend at MarsCon I had conversations with three authors where the use of pseudonyms came up. Two of them used pseudonyms and the other was considering it. These three were all professionally published multiple times and all three lamented sales numbers that were less than their ultimate goals. To boost their sales and to make a little more money, they mused, writing under a pseudonym was a good avenue to explore.

This is old thinking. A holdover from an industry in flux, flailing about in a mud puddle.

The difference between an amateur/hobbyist and a professional is simple: is this where you make your full-time living. It’s not quality of work, length of your reach, impact of your art. Is this where you make your living. By this definition, I am an amateur/hobbyist working towards becoming a professional.

As an independent, I will never have a random hit single and you, my dear favorite author, you will never have a #1 New York Times Best Seller. We will not make a fortune off of a fluke stroke of good luck. I will never make $50,000 in a year from one album but, what about ten albums? How about fifteen albums plus cool T-shirts, a novel or two, and some soundtracks? Maybe. Maybe then I’ll have a shot. One novel will probably not cover the cost you put into it but, what about two trilogies, a bunch of short stories, a How-to-write ebook, and some comic projects?

What would happen, though, if some of my albums were released under a pseudonym, and my books under a pen name, and the T-shirts were just random T-shirts? What if you like one of my albums but you can’t find the others with a Google search? What if I’m uncredited for that soundtrack? If your favorite author is publishing secret books, how will you buy them? How can you help your favorite author make a living as a writer if they won’t let you?

But, you might ask, what if the author wants to write something really different from their last four books? That’s totally awesome! I want to know how versatile they are. Should I release my South Dakota concept album under a pseudonym because folks who like my ghost songs might get mad and stop liking me all together? No. I will say, “This album is about South Dakota. There are no ghost songs on it.” They will either buy it or they wont. It will sell or it wont. As long as I am honest and clear about what I am doing, there is no danger. Low sales numbers do not mean a loss of fans. There are folks who said that they didn’t want to buy my steampunk album because they don’t like steampunk. But you know what? They bought the Christmas album because that sounded like something they would want.

I can think of only one real reason to use a pseudonym. You don’t what your friends/family/church/co-workers to know that you write erotica or some other material that would offend soft minds. If this is the case, so be it. Just make sure that you stick with whatever pseudonym you choose.

Pseudonyms are stupid. If you’re proud of it, put your name on it.

Wool Hipster

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It’s not often that I know about anything before it’s cool. But I knew about Wool before you did, I bet. My hubs found a small link on reddit and passed it onto me. A cheap set of 5 books for the kindle about some neat sci-fi story that Ridley Scott is rumored to be interested in. I am very interested in Ridley Scott and his fantabulous sci-fi, so I tried the book I’d never heard of.

It was amazing. I devoured all five of these in like two weeks, mostly on a road trip with two young children (both under 4) and during the summer when aforementioned four year old and his one year old little brother were climbing all over everything including me. The story made me cry, for pete’s sake. Honestly, this story was every single thing I wanted from it and more. I feel like I Discovered Something Important, that this is only the beginning of someone’s very successful writing career and for once I was along for the ride.

I also blabbed about this book to anyone within ear shot! You have to read this. Now. No, NOW. Stop doing what you’re doing and and read it! I don’t care if your book/movie/project/game/class/job is ineresting read it right now you won’t be disappointed! This Howey guy is gonna be huge! I emailed poor Beth countless times and who knows how many annoying “zomg this book is teh bom” postcards I sent.

I am the only one I know that has read them, so far. I have one friend who is reading it now but just the one and last I heard she was only on book 2.
So now that he is being published by the massive and powerful Simon & Shuster, don’t be surprised when, later this year, after you tell me how awesome this book is, I go all hipster on you. I’ll smile knowingly and say, “Oh I read that last year, before it was mainstream.” and sip my coffee.
Cuz I did. And it’s amazing. I strongly recommend it. ;-) You won’t be disappointed.

Epic Fantasy Cross-Stitch

As if you needed another reason why I’m so cool, I received this awesome little handmade bag as a Kickstarter reward. It was designed and stitched by Juliet E. McKenna.

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I can hear your teeth gnashing in jealousy all the way from here.

It was for this project:
Tales of the Emerald Serpent, which includes short stories by McKenna, Julie Czerneda, and Martha Wells.

Still In Love 2012

booksI know. You have already heard me gushing twice over about awesome books I read this year (Loudest Reading and New Book Loves). Well, I just couldn’t leave these favorites out. Below are some very worthy books by authors I discovered some time ago and who continue to entertain me, make me cry, make me feel like a real person. I hope you have such authors in your life.

I don't know about you, but Chupa's head looks like some whacked optical illusion in this photo.

I don’t know about you, but Chupa’s head looks like some whacked optical illusion in this photo.

After rereading Ender’s Game, I went on to further explore the Enderverse with Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. This book was so powerfully moving for me on several levels: the clash of cultures, the loss of family and friends, the rebuilding of ties by washing away the lies. I then went out of publication order and listened to Ender’s Shadow, which is basically Ender’s Game retold through the eyes of Bean. It also shares Bean’s back story. Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston is the first in a new series with no punches pulled. If you want to know how the Bugger Wars started, this is an excellent book to pick up and I am looking forward to the sequel.

Heldig, on one of her hyper days.

Heldig, on one of her hyper days.

I have cite Jim Butcher and Ghost Story and Cold Days of The Dresden Files as my favorite urban fantasies of the year. It was sooooo important for me to read Ghost Story back in January as beloved Harry Dresden was left in great peril at the end of the previous book (Changes). I had to know what happened with him and his friends, and his enemies. With one conundrum solved, we are left with another, hence the preordering of Ghost Story which came out at the end of November. This is an excellent series if you haven’t tried it; start with Storm Front.

The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson gets my best epic fantasy read of the year. Dark and darker, hints and mist for the heroes to navigate, and a kick-ass heroine. Need I say more? Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages

Snuggly Waffles on clean sheets with a good book.

Snuggly Waffles on clean sheets with a good book.

Three spiritwalkers become entangled in Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee. In a world of seven dieties, an expanding culture clashes with Sjenn of the far north and the warrior tribes of greener pastures. This book took all my attention as I sank into it with each reading. Lowachee forces you to think from another person’s point of view with her writing and I eagerly await her next book.

New Book Loves of 2012

15922261This year held several new-to-me authors that I fell in love with. I already covered some of them over in a post about Loud Reading, but I couldn’t contain myself to a single book love post. What follows are more of my favorite reads of 2012.

As a scifi classic, I know I have had plenty of time and opportunity to read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. After reading this book, I can see why he has such a fan base, even with its few flaws (such as only 1 female main character). The plot, the narration of the audio version, and the lovable AI character made this a keeper on my shelf.

A pleasant surprise in this category was Shifted Perspective by J. Bridger. Were-cocker spaniels. Yep. I bet you weren’t expecting that. This book snuck up on me with it’s quiet way, a light snuffle, followed by a cold velvety nose to the armpit that made me sit up and take notice. I was turned into a cranky child, not wanting to put this book down and staying up far too late on a work night reading it.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is the first Arabic fantasy tale to save the world using flawed humans who enjoy cardamom tea. There’s ghuls, and shape shifters, and sword warriors, and magic, and bad folks who do really bad things.

The biologist in me was fascinated by the nonfiction Mushroom by Nicholas Money. This read was easily accessible, not too long, and left me with a deep respect for fungi – mostly because they can kill us in oh so many ways.

Now I know this series has been around for many years, and I even heard someone mention a tv series based on the books, but it was only lately that I stumbled across George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. It’s nitty gritty, complex, and full of flawed characters faced with tough decisions. I definitely plan to continue on with the series; in fact I am on the library waiting list for Book 2.

Diane Setterfield entertained by greatly with her The 13th Tale. An eerie tale featuring twins, it was part historical fiction, part ghost story, and one very large part suspense. The audio version worked very well.

Hands down, one of the best origin stories I have ever had the pleasure to read was Zorro by Isabel Allende. Piece by piece, she drew together over a period of years all the bits that made Diego the man we know as Zorro, from his warrior mother, to his years spent in Europe, and his time as a pirate captive, to finally the conflicts as a young man that drove him to put on the mask. Excellent read.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was unlike any other book I have read. Part fantasy, part historical fiction, and part mystery, it was super intense. Oh, and the audio kept catching me off guard with an accentuated Spanish accent popping off such phrases as, ‘They are just a bunch of ass-lickers!’.

Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul was an intense modern-day fiction about a Turkish family of women and their ties to a young Armenian American who comes to visit. Some might call this magical realism, as there is a djinn at some point that no one thinks odd. I enjoyed it because it was different from what I normally read and because it opened the door a little wider for me on the Turkish culture.

Giraffe by J. M Ledgard is a historical fiction based on facts, almost a nonfiction. Basically it is about a group of giraffes brought to a Czechoslovakian zoo and how all these folks are affected by their presence. Let me just say that the ending was not sudden, not over quickly, and was immensely sad. In fact, my man refused to listen to this book because of how sad it made me – but that is a sign that the author got the point across in full color.

GrapesWrath

I am not well versed on the classics and through Darkcargo’s efforts to encourage reading of the classics, I tackled The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck this year. this book was so poignant and moving, especially the ending (which is definitely not shown in the black and white movie). Steinbeck didn’t hold back from showing the gritty parts of Depression Era USA and the affect on migrant workers.

Dracula by Bram Stoker has received so much hype over the years and so many versions of vampires now abound in our world, that I simply did not expect how good this book would be. The suspense is high all the way through, and then there was the description of the Romanian and Transylvanian food that inspired some cooking of my own.

Pico with my book.

Conn Iggulden provided me with many, many hours of entertainment via his Emperor series covering the life of Julius Caesar, a part of history that has fascinated me for decades. From a young Julius running around getting into scraps with other idiot children, to his days captured by pirates, on to Greece, and eventually a long stint in Gaul, and finally Egypt and the birth of his son, and then Rome and his death. The four books in the series are worth the read (The Gates of Rome, The Death of Kings, The Field of Swords, The Gods of War).

I (heart) Joe R. Lansdale

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Happy Halloween, guys and ghouls.

For your Halloween present, I’m giving all of you an author new to me: Joe R. Lansdale.

(note: this is one of my very rare reviews)

I first encountered Joe R. Lansdale in that used bookstore I showed you pictures of a while back. I picked up Mucho Mojo out of the mystery section because the name rang a bell, but darn if I could remember why.
At the bottom of a stack of books I’d bought at the same time, all of which turned out to be my typical “open and toss”,  gloomy, lonely, unable to sleep, wracked with anxiety (do you feel sorry for me yet? heh-heh!) I opened up that Mucho Mojo at midnight and finished it at five a.m. Serious.

Joe Landsale has written about eleventy-billion books, won about 12 billion awards–including the Bram Stoker award–and yet, knowing that I was unfamiliar with his work, couldn’t place why his name was familiar to me.

Mucho Mojo is the second in this series he does featuring Hap and Leonard. The very elementary synopsis is: two buddies stumble into and solve a local mystery.

There are three things I love about reading a Joe Lansdale book:

1) most importantly, the writing flows so effortlessly from the page and into my eyes and carries me away from this place. It’s that rare experience of starting to read and being unable to stop.

2) he doesn’t shy away from racial issues, prejudice, civil rights, theology. He is honest, blunt, brutal, and he lets people in  all their wretchedness be the scariest thing in the world. I had never encountered anything like this before. You need to read it for yourself because I don’t think I can give it justice. It’s not guilt inducing or lectury. The characters discuss their differences in opinion and experiences, and thus Lansdale opens up my mind to new information and yet the characters are not talking heads, vehicles for Lansdale’s soapbox. The characters are gripping and real people, and their opinions are their own.

I have found that many authors write in a way that shows to me that they’re afraid to offend anyone, or a group of people. All peoples can be assholes, and I found that Joe Lansdale’s novels don’t allow us to feel sorry for A Person just because they are [insert stereotype here]. Hap is a 40 year old white guy. Leonard is African American and gay. They are inseparable, the best of best friends. Leonard has troubles with the local populace, but so does Hap, for example, walking into a bar where he is very not welcome.

Maybe I read *too* much fantasy, but these characters really took on some issues that I find terrible and frightening. Oh, and the house next door is a crack house. I’m reading this and thinking, “Gosh, here’s an author who can discuss these issues without shying away from the dark corners and also not be an ass burdened with his own superiority complex.”

2.5) the New Word quote I posted last night, a quote from The Bottoms, is an example of exactly how detailed he can get, looking into those dark corners. It has been my reading experience that authors will cover the event described in that quote with some vague “a bad thing happened”.

3) he’s funny! These books would be unbearable if he didn’t lighten the action with humor. The people say funny things, and they get into funny situational humor, too. The banter between Hap and Leonard had me rolling.

4) Lansdale can change his narration style to suit the novel he’s writing. The one I’m TAKING TIME AWAY FROM READING IN ORDER TO SPEND AN HOUR ON THIS POST FOR YOU, DEAR READER is The Bottoms, a story that takes place in 1933 east Texas. The book is narrated in first person, with a dialect and grammar of someone from that time and place.

(that was four things)

Where had I heard his name before? Oh, YEAH! Subterranean Press has a crush on Joe R. Lansdale and they’ve published several of his novels in their super nice deluxe editions.

This, for example, is some of his situational humor:

“Another staple of Marvel Creek was a band of roving hogs that belonged to Old Man Crittendon.

“The hogs were tolerated most of the time, but once a big one got after Mrs. Owens and chased her down West all the way into her house. Being as how she was a little on the fat side, the general talk of the men around town — who didn’t care much for Mrs. Owens because she was a Yankee and apt to remind folks constantly that the North won the war — named this momentous event The Race of Two Hogs.

“Anyway, Mrs. Owens’s husband, Jason, who wore a beard and dressed in stiff clothes, shot the hog on his front porch with a shotgun, but not before he blew off the porch steps, knocked down a support post, and dropped the roof on the hog and himself. The hog recovered, Mr. Owens didn’t.”

from The Bottoms, Joe R. Lansdale

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